Monday, September 26, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Monday, September 26, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, assassination attempts continue, the US military announces another death (that's 4 for the month, if someone says 2, they're not paying attention), Nouri continues his foot dragging (Political Stalemate II), a US government employee talks about fraud and waste with tax payer money, and more.
Last week, Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz had a column in the Los Angeles Times on the financial costs of the ongoing wars:

Many of these costs were unnecessary. We chose to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan with a small, all-volunteer force, and we supplemented the military presence with a heavy reliance on civilian contractors. These decisions not only placed enormous strain on the troops but dramatically pushed up costs. Recent congressional investigations have shown that roughly 1 of every 4 dollars spent on wartime contracting was wasted or misspent.
To date, the United States has spent more than $2.5 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon spending spree that accompanied it and a battery of new homeland security measures instituted after Sept. 11.
How have we paid for this? Entirely through borrowing.

The wars put the country into debt.  And how was that money spent?  Who benefitted.  A very ugly answer -- not the Iraqi people -- emerges from a US government employee.  Peter Van Buren is a US State Dept employee and he was part of a wave of diplomats sent to Iraq in 2009 in Barack's "surge."  Julian Brookes (Rolling Stone) interviews him.  In the excerpt I'm labeling the speakers to make it easier to follow and I've also put one remark in single quotes:
Brookes: And so then you went to Iraq and your job was to help get the local economy up and running?
Van Buren: Well, we didn't know what we were doing!  When I arrived in Iraq my expectation was that I would step into the middle of this storm of busyness and somebody would tell me what to do, but it turned out everyone -- my State Department contractor teammates and the military unit I was embedded with -- was looking at me saying, "We though you knew what we were going to be doing here!"
[. . .]
Brookes: And where exactly was the money going?
Van Buren: The stupidest, most amazing thing -- I still see myself doing it -- was the micro-grant project. And this was decided on that we would kick-start small businesses by literally handing $5,000 in cash to Iraqis and encouraging them to use at the start of business.  And we literally would drive into town and round up some people and hand them bundles of $5,000 in cash and say 'Please start a business.'  No obligation, no follow-up.  Nothing.  They looked at us like we were completely insane.
Dave Davies: Now when you went to Iraq, this was in 2009.  And this was far beyond the days when a lot of people would say American military policy was so misguided.  By then, a lot of people think, we had figured this out.  The military was much more committed to friendly engagement with the Iraqi population and reconstruction and winning hearts and minds. So you're there to do good things, to help rebuild the county.  But, as you tell the story, you certainly weren't out among the people.  Just tell us a little bit about your living kind of situation and how -- how that meshed with the mission that you had.
Peter Van Buren: What the PRT -- Provincial Reconstrution Team -- was supposed to do was to operate at a grass roots level, embedded with the US military to bring stability and economic success to all of Iraq -- particularly operating outside of the major cities. One of the key problems was the inability to reconstruct something while it was essentially still falling apart. The American presence in Iraq basically had three components.  You had the military command which sat in a place called Victory Base.  The army has no irony in its naming conventions.  And they had a very limited view of things, they were very isolated.  And then you had the American Embassy, the world's largest enemies surrounded by the world's largest walls that kept both bad guys and reality out. The joke was that the Embassy kept an eye on events in Iraq from the roof.  And then you had the Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- me.  We were small groups of people. We were embedded with military units.  We would roll out in military convoys, typically riding in a military vehicles called   MRAP which is like a giant monster truck.  It has all sorts of armor and special electronics on it that make it less vulnerable to the IEDs that plague the campaign in Iraq for its entire life.  It had machine guns at the top and full of soldiers with their game faces on. Guns, rifles, grenades -- the whole manner of stuff.  Myself, I would wear body armor and a helmet, just like the soldiers wore.  I wasn't armed. I didn't carry a weapon. We made quite an impression on people when we rolled through town. Sometimes when we rolled through the center of town we made quite an impression because our vehicles were tall enough that they tore down all the electrical and phone lines that were strung across the rodes.  Sometimes we made quite an impression when we roared through fields and left ruts where there had been rice or wheat planeted.  And often times we made quite an impression by attracting a lot of attention to people just by our presence.  It was difficult to say that we ever could have normal interaction with anyone. The mere presence of us made us look like aliens descending from armored space ships in the middle of no where.  Every interaction with every Iraqi took place with soldiers with weapons standing around.  Often times I was told to leave my helmet and body armor on while I was speaking with the Iraqi people for my own safety. We rarely could stay in one place for too long without fear of attracting too much attention and an attack.  Setting up appointments was difficult because it was dangerous to tell people too far in advance that we were arriving. We didn't want to give the bad guys too much time to get ready. And under those conditions, the ability to meet with people, to interact with them was a failure.
Dave Davies: And I believe that one of your first interactions with Iraqis involved this fellow -- I think he had the nickname McBlazer.  And you had this issue you had to work out.  Tell us that story.
Peter Van Buren: State Dept people love to wear blue blazers with brass buttons.  It's almost kind of a uniform. And one of the Iraqis that we interacted with regularly had adopted this as his form of dress so he was nicknamed McBlazer among us.  The Embassy constantly was tasking us to put on presentations, shows, lectures.  We were going to tell Iraqis, "Here's how democracy works. Here's what women should be doing. Here's the way you should be running your businesses." These were hard to put on and it required a lot of logitstic arrangements, things that we couldn't possibly do on our own in a country where we couldn't travel freely, where telephone service was sporadic and where there was no infrastructure for us to work with. It became necessary for us to seek out these middle men, these operators, these carpet baggers. Slick guys, like McBlazer, who, for money, could make things happen. The very first day, as I arrived and met my team, the very first task I was handed was a -- was to commit fraud so that we could properly pay off McBlazer for the last thing. Now fraud is a nasty word to use --
Dave Davies:  Let me just interrupt here.  What do you mean fraud? What did you have to do?
Peter Van Buren: Well it turns out there were limits the State Department put on how much we could spend on refreshments. This was very important because without refreshments Iraqis wouldn't come to our meetings. We simply couldn't get a crowd unless we fed them.  To feed them costs money and the cost of that food often times exceeded the maximum that we were allowed to spend. This doesn't stop a guy like McBlazer.  He
simply created fake receipts for printing that covered the cost of the food.  And my very first diplomatic action in Iraq was to be told by my colleagues to sign the fake receipts so that we could pay McBlazer for the food that we had to use to bribe the Iraqis to come to the meetings so that the Embassy would be satisfied that we were reconstructing Iraq.
That may seem like a great deal of tax payer money to waste; however, maybe the US government saw the war as a way to enrich the defense industry?  Adam Entous and Nathan Hodge (Wall St. Journal) report that the US and Iraq have finalized a deal for Iraq to purchase eighteen F-16 planes with hopes of buying another 18. Thus far, they've put down $1.5 billion towards the purchase of the first 18. Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) quotes an unnamed "senior U.S. military official" who estimates the cost for the 18 will be "roughtly $3 billion."  Bob Cox (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) adds, "The sale, which has been widely expected for some time but not completed, would be the first in some time for Lockheed Martin which assembles the F-16 in Fort Worth."  If you're thinking, "Well, maybe that 1.5 billion down -- on a 3 billion purchase -- saved some jobs," think again.  Kevin James Shay (Maryland's Gazette) reports that Lockheed Martin announced they were laying off 540 workers in the state of Maryland. KERA (link is text and audio) notes that Lockheed Martin announced today that Fort Worth will see 370 layoffs -- this comes on top of "another 300 Fort Worth employees [. . . accepting] voluntary terminations, either through early retirements or resignations, and the company will not fill another 300 vacant jobs." David Markiewicz (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) reports Lockheed announced today they were "laying off 114 employees at its Marietta plant". Those may not be all the layoffs.  (I'm surprised Palmdale doesn't have an announcement.)  A few get rich.  Most Americans suffer as a result of all the money wasted.  And some Americans gave their lives in this war.  4 US service members have died in/from the Iraq War this month.  DoD has tracked all four deaths in their official count (click here) but they have only issued announcements for two.  Sunday a perfuncturary announcement was issued and, supposedly, only due to a US Senator stirring things up last week when his office called several people at the Pentagon demanding to know why deaths were not getting announcements and whether this was an accident or an order from the White House? Here's the Sunday announcement:


The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn.

Sgt. Andy C. Morales, 32, of Longwood, Fla., died Sept. 22 in Baghdad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Orlando, Fla.

For more information, media may contact the 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) public affairs office at 1-800-221-9401 ext. 1132 or e-mail Maj. John Adams at .

Over a million Iraqis -- well over a million -- have died in the Iraq War.  And they continue to die because the war has not ended. As the war continues, violence continues to rock Iraq.  Today Aswat al-Iraq reports a Kirkuk car bombing claimed 3 lives today and that two additional bombings did "material damage." In addition, they note, "An Iraqi soldier has been killed and another soldier was seriously injured in a joint US-Iraqi security operation in al-Fudheiliya township, 15 km to the east of Nassiriya city, the center of southern Iraq's Thi-Qar Province on Monday, a security source reported." Reuters adds that Mohammed Ali (Ministery of Health worker) was shot dead in Baghdad, an assault on a Baghdad police checkpoint left 1 police officer dead and two more injured, 1 Iraqi soldier was shot dead in Mosul and an attack on Mosul police checkpoint left one police officer injured. Hamid Ahmed (AP) notes the assassination of Mohammed Ali but gives his name as Mohammed Ali al-Safi and identifies him as a "senior Finance Ministry official" and Ahmed reports a Baghdad assassination attempt on Judge Munir Hadad that the judge survived; however, he was left wounded in the hand by a bullet.
Yesterday Karbala was slammed with four bombings. Aziz Alwan and Dan Zak (Washington Post) counted 15 people dead and one hundred and thirteen wounded. They also quoted Gamin al-Karbalie who is not smarter than a fourth grader.  Though the bombings had just taken place, al-Karbalie just knew who was responsbile: al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And he knew why: Because, he says, the group wants to demonstrate that Iraqi forces cannot handle security without the US.
Over 40,000 US troops are still on Iraqi soil and the bombings happened, that's A.  B, how is it in al Qaeda's interest to keep US troops in the Middle East? Granted al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a splinter group and one formed after the US invasion of Iraq; however, the goal of al Qaeda is US forces out of the Middle East. Why their motives would suddenly be to keep the US in Iraq, I don't know. But Ganim al-Karbalie apparently does. I have no idea who was responsible or why. But if you're going to point a finger and supply a motive, your little reenactment should make sense.
AP quoted provincial council member Hussein Shadhan al-Aboudi stating, "The aim of these explosions is to ignite the sectarian sedition after the killing of 22 Karbala residents in the Anbar desert two weeks ago. They also aim to destabilize the security situation in Karbala." Is he right? Who knows? But his hypothesis does add up. Tim Arango (New York Times) noted provincial council member Tariq al-Khaikani hypothesis, "Mr. Khaikani attributed the persistent violence in Iraq to the lack of ministers of interior and defense, two positions that have essentially been overseen by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki since the formation of a new government late last year. At the time, Mr. Maliki promised to name new heads of those ministries soon, but he has not yet done so."

The Telegraph of London (link has video and text) quoted
Mohammed Na'eim stating, "I was inside my house when I heard a big explosion. When I got outside I saw many people wounded and some bodies on the ground." Jamal Hashim (Xinhua) explained, "The attackers apparently followed old tactic which depends on creating an initial explosion to attract security forces and people, then they set off another blast to get heavier casualties, the source added." Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) observed, "Sunday's carnage, the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Iraq, harken back to the deadly days of civil warfare five years ago between Shiite and Sunni Muslims." 
In other violence news, Today's Zaman notes Turkey continues bombing northern Iraq. AP notes that Turkish authority for these bombings expires October 17th; however, Parliament is expected to vote to extend the mandate at the beginning of next month.
And Thomas Friedman's Turkish twin, Abdullah Bozkurt (Today's Zaman), is gushing and giddy and, honestly, hostile: "The PKK made similar threats to US interests in the past, but they never materialized. The terrorist organization may act on their threats this time [. . .]"  We'll check back in on Abdullah Bozkurt and his dream journal in a moment.  Right now, what's got him so frisky?  Dropping back to last week:
Meanwhile the government of Turkey is boasting of another round of carpet bombing today on northern Iraq. AP reports that in addition to carpet bombing the region, the government is using Heron drones to track movement (those drones supplied by the Israeli government) and intelligence passed on by the US government which the US government obtained via "U.S.-operated Predator drones". World Bulletin notes the Turkish boast of hitting "152 targets" since the bombings began on August 17th. The Times of Oman reports, "Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has submitted a list of requests for help from the United States to counter Kurdish separatists, Anatolia news agency said Wednesday." And Erdogan's quoted stating his belief that it will be no problem for Turkey to get those predator drones from the US it requested last week.
Tom Mellen (Morning Star) puts it this way, "Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed plans on Sunday to bolster joint military operations with the CIA and Iran against Kurdish guerillas based in occupied Iraq's semi-automous north."  Marc Champion (Wall St. Journal) observes today, "Mr. Erdogan has begun his third term with a major aerial assault against militants from the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, in their bases in the Kandil mountains of Northern Iraq.  It is just the latest of many such Turkish assaults over the years, none of which have succeed in eliminating the PKK." But they're hopeful a new weapon will turn the tide, those predator drones. And that's what has Abullah Bozkurt giddy, gushing and hostile.  Champion observes, "What Mr. Erdogan is offering the U.S. in exchange is less clear."  Less clear?  That's a nice way to put it.
AP reported Sunday that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that, to fight Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq (PKK for Turkey, PJAK for Iran), the governments of Turkey and Iran have decided to work tother. Turkey and Iran, forming partnerships. That Iraq War sure was a success for the US government, wasn't it? And just think, the US will supply Turkey with predator drones and Turkey will share the intelligence gathered from the drones with the Iranian government.   Fars News Agency reports, "Chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaoddin Borougjerdi met Turkey's ambassador to Tehran on Sunday.  At the meeting, the two sides discussed bilateral relations and exchanged views over other issues of mutual interest."
Over the weekend, Suha Sheikhly and Adam Youssef (Al Mada) reported on Iraq's unemployment problem noting that Diwanya Province has the highest unemployment rate and speaking to a worker who left there for Baghad only to encounter a lack of jobs there as well. Friday saw a demonstration in Baghad and unemployment has been one of the issues driving the protests but not to the degree, the reporters state, as elsewhere in the Arab region. They spoke with 24-year-old protester Jabbar who said that there were few opportunities for work. Another protester is 26-year-old Mutashar who left his wife and child in Nasiriyah to come to Baghad and find a job only to discover there were no jobs in the capitol either. Throughout the Iraq War, those selling alcohol have been regularly targeted with shootings and bombings. That doesn't deter anyone, they're so desparate for employment to feed their families.  W.G. Dunlop (AFP) reports that, despite this, it remains a busy occupation with many willing to work in any of Baghdad's 96 alcohol stores. This includes Yazidi Shakir who left Mosul to make moeny for his family and now "only gets to see his family in Mosul every two months for 10 to 15 days".  Unemployment was not addressed by Nouri al-Maliki despite his promising in February that it would be. He asked for 100 days and he did nothing. The 100 day deadline long ago passed. Dar Addustour noted the response of Najaf's religious authority: Refusing to receive Iraqi politicians. And it's noted that what politicians discussed months earlier with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was not carried out.
Following the March 2010 elections, gridlock and paralysis set in in Baghdad. Nouri al-Maliki wasn't happy with the results (his State of Law came in second) and dug his heels in refusing to allow anything to move forward. In Novemeber 2010, the Erbil Agreement was reached with all the political blocs (except State of Law) giving up something. Nouri wanted to remain prime minister and was allowed to. The Kurds were supposed to get Article 140 of the Constitution implemented, Iraqiay was supposed to get a new commission on national security which would be independent and headed by Ayad Allawi. Those are the broad strokes. Nouri got re-appointed prime minister and promptly trashed the agreement creating Political Stalemate II. Yesterday Aswat al-Iraq reported, "The Chairman of al-Iraqiya Coalition, Iyad Allawi, has discussed the political developments in Iraq with Iraqi Kurdistan's Premier, Barham Saleh, in a meeting they held in Arbil, in which both sides have confirmed necessity to implement the Constitution and the Agreements, concluded among different Iraqi parties to form the government of national-partnership." Iraqiya has been clear on their position repeatedly. Saturday Alsumaria TV noted, "Iraqiya advisor Hani Ashour affirmed that Al Iraqiya List believes that there is no need for any meeting if Arbil agreements are not followed as a consensus political reference that would help put an end to the country's crisis and achieve effective national partnership." Each day, the rift appears to grow deeper between Nouri on one side and Iraqiya and the Kurds on the other. Dar Addustour notes Massoud Barzani, KRG President, met with Kurdish officials on Saturday to discuss their issues with Nouri al-Maliki's governance. Aswat al-Iraq notes that Barzani and Allawi met today and the following statement was issued: "Barzani and Allawi have discussed the implementation of agreements, concluded among Iraq's political parties and commitment to the Constitution, as well as finding practical means and solutions for the problems inside the political process, its development and progress." Al Sabaah adds that a Kurdish delegation may meet with Nouri al-Maliki this week to present their demands -- they're due to arrive Tuesday and the delegation is supposed to be led by KRG Prime Minister Barham Ahmed Saleh.

The Kurds and Iraqiya are among the most vocal about Nouri's refusal to follow the Erbil Agreement; however, they are not the only ones raising concerns. Ahmed Alaa (Al Mada) reports that members of the National Alliance (alligned with State of Law) are expressing doubts about Nouri's heavy-handed approach and refusal to consult with others or create a politcal dialogue. The largest objection within the National Alliance is said to come from Iraq's Supreme Islamic Council.

Among Nouri's heavy handed moves has been firing another Chair of the Integrity Commission. He did this during his first term as prime minister as well. This second go round, there was a much louder objection from Parliament and the political blocs. Aswat al-Iraq notes Nouri has appointed Judge Ala'a Jawad Hamid as the new Chair.

In an apparent effort to distract from Nouri's endless power grabs, State of Law is insisting that members of Iraq's security forces are joining or re-joining the Ba'athist Party (the Ba'athist Party was the dominant party in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and prior to his ruling the country, the Ba'ath Party, regionally, is part of a Pan-Arab movement).
The US remains in negotiations with Iraq on a continued US military presence beyond 2011.  The F-16 purchase should mean the US Air Force remains ("should mean" due to past talk of this deal).  In addition, some troops will be shoved under the State Dept umbrella regardless and remain in Iraq.  What is known is that Yochi J. Dreazen is back in Iraq covering things for the National Journal and The Atlantic.  He notes that the US military base in Basra has already seen many troops depart with more scheduled to:
The upcoming troop withdrawal won't mean the U.S. presence here disappears, however. Instead, the number of Americans in Basra will actually increase significantly in the months ahead as the State Department dramatically expands its consulate here.
U.S. officials say the consulate will eventually employ more than 1,200 people, making it larger than most embassies. The bulk of its employees will be security contractors and civilian officials from the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, but a small number of military personnel will be stationed within the consulate as part of State's Office of Security Cooperation, which oversees weapons sales to Baghdad and security training.